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Is Intervention in Pakistan the Neocons' First Good Idea?

12.11.2007 | POLITICS

Defense has traditionally been an arena for hawks. In particular, the present administration took terrorism and ran with it. The 2008 Republican presidential candidates all have their arms outstretched to grab the issue when the outgoing president passes it off like a baton.

Progressives tend to shy away from the subject of defense. Bringing it up, they fear, might prompt Bush & Co. to move another civil liberty to the recycling bin of freedom's hard drive. Besides, as if Islamic fanaticism were one big evil genie, we subscribe to the notion that it can be lured back into the bottle with diplomacy, aid and trade. Not to mention vacating the Middle-East's premises.

Were those measures to meet with success during a Democratic presidency, we'd still be looking at a substantial lead time before al-Qaeda et al delivered some peace dividends. While waiting, we're just as vulnerable to attack as when the terrorism ball is in Bush's court.

Proactive to a fault as always, the neocons stand ready to rush into the fray, even before there is one. Frederick Kagan, who along with his father, brother and wife, signed on to the infamous Project for a New American Century, is a scholar at the notorious neocon think tank, the American Enterprise Institute.

He's also a former professor at West Point. (Though the doughy figure he cuts must have given pause to cadets in his military strategy and revolutionary warfare classes.)

Along with another tank-thinker, Michael O'Hanlon, Kagan authored a New York Times op-ed on November 18 entitled "Pakistan's Collapse, Our Problem." The amount of attention it attracted is a tribute to the power a strategically placed oped in a major newspaper can still pack, much like Joseph Wilson's.

For instance, on December 1, the Guardian of London ran a special report in response: "Bush handed blueprint to seize Pakistan's nuclear arsenal" Bush handed blueprint to seize Pakistan's nuclear arsenal." The title was, of course, an allusion to Kagan's authorship of the Iraq Surge. (Elevate troop levels? Brilliant! The man's Clausewitz incarnate.)

To sum up their article, though you may already be familiar with it, Kagan and O'Hanlon are concerned about "a complete collapse of Pakistani government rule that allows an extreme Islamist movement to fill the vacuum."

Among their solutions? A Special Forces operation "to prevent Pakistan's nuclear materials and warheads from getting into the wrong hands." Once in-country, it would "team with Pakistanis to secure critical sites and possibly to move the material to a safer place."

There are those among us who give the issue of nuclear proliferation pride of place before any other. After all, if we're blown up, we won't be around to suffer at the hands of the fifth and sixth horsemen of the apocalypse: global warming and Peak Oil. We don't necessarily share with progressives the same reaction -- oh no, not more intervention -- to Kagan and O'Hanlon's proposal.

Instead, we can't help but wonder if the neocons might finally have stumbled across a good idea. But before we make like strange bedfellows with them, we sought out other perspectives.

First IPS reporter Jim Lobe: "The assumption is that the 'moderate' core of the Pakistani military will be the key to success and. . . is prepared to fully cooperate with a major foreign military intervention to ensure foreign control of its most important weapons." [Emphasis added.] Hey, nobody said neocons were "realists." Everybody knows realpolitik bores them.

At the Atlantic's blog, Matthew Yglesias amplified on Lobe's point. "Can you imagine a responsible member of the Pakistani military inviting a large foreign military presence into the country as a prophylactic measure against a government collapse that hasn't actually happened?"

Democracy Arsenal is the blog of the influential National Security Network. One of its posters, Max Bergmann, reacts to Kagan and O'Hanlon's proposal that we leave our soldiers in Iraq where they are while sending others into Pakistan. Bear in mind that, as one of its architects, Kagan has a vested interest in the surge.

"Kagan and O'Hanlon," Bergmann writes, are "playing General with imaginary troops. . . . [They] clearly have a hidden stash of U.S. soldiers. . . . Sounds a lot like denial doesn't it?" You want to bet that under the typical neocon's high-school picture, you'll find the description "dreamer"?

Along with all its other columnists, the Christian Science Monitor recently laid off Helena Cobban after 17 years (while Mary Baker Eddy rolls over in her grave). But she still maintains her remarkable blog, Just World News, in which she addressed Kagan and O'Hanlon's neoconic need to see that the US continues to act as a lone wolf.

She writes that they give "no hint that a collapse of government power in Pakistan [with its nuclear arsenal] would pose a massive challenge to everyone in the world." Like, for starters, its neighbors India, China and Afghanistan. By contrast, she writes, "The US homeland [is] located almost exactly on the other side of the world."

Turns out though, that Kagan and O'Hanlon require "elite Pakistani forces" to work with "crack international troops" to move Pakistan's nukes to a "remote redoubt" and guard them. (Note Special Forces wannabe speak.)

They also recommend a "sizable combat force -- not only from the United States, but ideally also other Western powers and moderate Muslim nations" to join in holding Pakistan together.

But they only ask other nations for help in carrying out their plan, not with devising one. "What on earth is it with the hubris of so many US 'strategic analysts,'" Cobban writes, "that they think that the US is in some way 'uniquely' threatened by developments in distant Pakistan?"

Writing in New Perspectives Quarterly, Islam specialist Graham Fuller agrees. "The region will only calm down [with] the development of a regional approach to the Afghan issue," as well as a withdrawal of U.S. forces. "Yet this reality is anathema to the hegemonic global strategy of the Bush administration."

In fact, the whole notion of intervention in Pakistan may be premature. According to Najum Mushtaq at Asia Times Online, "Whenever the people of Pakistan have had the opportunity to express their will, they have voted overwhelmingly for mainstream political parties. [But] impatient neo-conservatives are rushing to conclude that without the military in power, the country will slide into an abyss and fall apart."

As for the nukes: "So fixated are [the neocons] on a military solution to every problem that the normal procedures of ensuring nuclear weapons do not even cross their minds." An invasion "will pitch the entire population and the military against US forces. What is needed is a. . . more transparent. . . command and control system. Pakistan's nuclear arsenal has been under military control [and a civilian government] should be given a say in managing the country's nuclear assets."

In other words, no, the neocons haven't come up with their first good idea. Nor, with their foothold in the White House slipping as Bush's term expires, are they likely to ever.

About the Author
Russ Wellen is an editor at Freezerbox who specializes in foreign affairs and nuclear deproliferation.
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